Saturday 25 June 2016

What type of Governance are we seeking?

I voted remain. For two reasons. First and foremost as what any referendum does, it makes it personal. I based it on my identity. I am a European although half-British by birth where I was educated have lived and worked a third of my life. Secondly, it was for a wider reason. I believe we are better off in a United Europe by pooling our sovereignty to resolve the wider issues for the greater and common good as we live in a more connected world. Like many that night I struggled to sleep at night.  I was curious; I kept on looking at the mobile phone on all the developments. It was not until I had read about the dramatic fall in Sterling resulting from traders having speculated on remain, that this could be a Brexit. My goodness. I quickly came to terms with this eventuality and then comfortably fell asleep. I woke to find out, that it was indeed a Brexit. Although surprised, I am neither shocked, but certainly sad mainly for the difficulties and potential division that lie ahead for many people and their families.

Since the financial crisis, and our bail outs, this country, and not just this country has been suffering from very large financial cut backs as a result of the massive mistakes by the capitalist and financial system. The hubris and greed of some banks, many intermediaries and corporations all too often trapped within their game of reoccurring conflicts of interests, shortermism and the Machiavellian pursuit of profit often at the expense of not just themselves but others.  Many of us knew that the economic and financial system was making little sense even those working in it. Our culture and our society have suffered at a large scale with increasing social issues, unhappiness in the work place, vast inequality and housing too expensive for any young honest professional to even contemplate getting onto.  

Other countries like Belgium suffered with their own problems incapable of making changes in their highly taxed and over bloated public sector. Holland has stagnated for a long time. France and Southern European countries have made many similar mistakes as a result of some of their politicians and leading businessmen and others. Many nations have been swimming in large pools of debt. As a result many Europeans were becoming weak in their soul and it became increasingly hard to find any meaning, loyalty and motivation in the workplace in this fast, nonsensical and impulsive world. Reputed economists, businessmen, politicians, and journalists have been scratching their heads for solutions without offering any answers whilst at the same time there have been these pockets for a more sustainable direction for a smoother ride ahead. 

Some CEO’s from the baby boom generation were held accountable for their poor conduct in front of the commons select committee. Was this not shameful enough for them?  The CEO and Chairman of HSBC both turned up. A hedge fund manager.  Some said sorry.  Some said we will change. Some like Philip Green muttered ‘why are you staring at me?' How is it that these people in the end have walked off scot free?  Some brokers from a well-known Broker firm had bet on Brexit but voted for remain. Yes they made a fortune for their bank. They don't care. Nothing is done, nothing changes. We speak about it, we know and yet it all continues. ‘That’s business!’ would be the common justification that I was all too familiar with from these types.It is all too late.

Friday 24th June something happened. The people spoke. They had had enough. A type of countryside and the real economy vs Brussels. Those bright fun loving carefree civil servants and lawyers often bogged down in the paperwork in multi languages among st the fine words, fine wine and fine lunches. A type of country side and the North vs. London, our power house, the last remnants of our true Empire still dominating the world and where money, commerce, power and transactions are rapidly exchanged sometimes in the most shadowy, peculiar, non-transparent almost lawless way.  

What does this all mean for our future?

I have great empathy for those honest and sincere people who have offered their entire careers and loyalty to their firms and may now have to seek new challenges, and yet beyond my sadness and initial surpriseI am not shocked. Apart from the fact that I have experienced, witnessed and believe me seen it, myself included, many dysfunctional and conflictual situations, some of which have been pretty evil. As one friend agreed with me, we were working at the tail end of the baby boom generation that had become reckless and left us one big upheaval. Since the financial crisis, and after my own personal transformation, I have stood for change. All over Europe the warnings shots and sentiment were rumbling under our feat of our inflated financial and economic system partly built on sand. Many powerful and yet weak politicians and corrupt businessmen building their lives with little foundation and wisdom resulting from our fast, and instantaneous world. Stress, burn out, aggression and loss of values in the work place had become a common theme with so many left out. Anybody with any common sense had known that something of the wider scale was going to have to give. If indeed Brexit will be the way for this wake up call, then let it be.  

Questions are to be asked about our governing system and over the last decade.  How is it that we allow powerful businessmen to be able to get away free for their very own failures and mistakes? Why is it that not one financier has been jailed or held accountable for the financial crisis?  Why have we been printing money without any strategy or plan and even have the audacity to lend it back into the very same culture that initiated the financial crisis in the first place? Where did all that money go?  How come we are so in debt and we have no proper road map to deal with our debts? Could we make economics more human? Might it be possible we could re-build a  financial system with our intermediaries into making money not as a means to an end but into something more purposeful that carries a benefit into something more tangible, something greater even idealistic for a more stable long term future? 

I was taught in politics A level, that it was the parliamentary governance, the rule of law, the church and the ‘fourth estate’ that were our authorities.  What’s happened? Instead we have been witnessing those with power and influence, albeit from a minority of businessmen, in commerce and the banks, politicians, people in the media weak in principles dictating to us, with endless compromise, manipulation and agendas often abusive like a stampede of bulls almost out of a chapter of Dante’s inferno into a mode of self-destruction. Qui bono in this impasse? Very few.

My goodness we need a deeper philosophical look at ourselves, perhaps questions such as how we make money and how we spend it?  How do we relay our news responsibly? Are our own values coherent to the values of our business? How can we see beyond the palm; of our hands?

We know we are imperfect and yet we know it is in our nature as humans beings that we seek justification in our acts. Surely on the outset this justification is always noble and the closer and more coherent it is to our hearts and minds, the nobler it is.  Are not those the ones we must admire and listen to?

In short I believe in change and these are undeniably dramatic times. The change I believe in is one that is inspirational in leadership, one that is genuine and coherent. A change that has a law and order, that holds those to account for their mistakes rich or poor so that we can learn from those mistakes and move on. A society that commands respect for our authority that has become all too self- serving rather than serving.  A change that plays to our strengths and not our weaknesses. A change that can provide a long term sustainable direction for all those in finance, manufacturing, commerce, agriculture, and education, that benefits our children, society, our environment and our world.  

If our exit from the EU requires more localised governance then let this governance offer a vision that touches the entire nation with London at its capital and at its heart that serves its nations needs first and foremost and then elsewhere. It is these types of quality people that can rise to the top that our young can look up to whereupon we can attain a new hope. Then let this be our chance for the great and the good to be there, to re-instil that confidence, and much needed inner belief consistent to our values that this nation seeks. That way in our current British retreat we can solve our inner and outer challenges rather like washing a pair of trousers inside out before which we can start wearing them. I suspect many of us will materially become poorer for it across the entire spectrum which we will have to learn to accept. This part will be hard and yet we will come out stronger in the long run. This way we can show the rest of our European neighbours, even the world that we can be admired for in our resilience and pragmatism, our humour, our self-control, our inventiveness, our sense of adventure and our inspiration all the great attributes that we were once so proud of in our history. Do we not owe this to our children?

Real freedom always comes at a price

Friday 10 June 2016

Brexit. Bridging or detachment?

Admittedly as an Anglo-Norwegian now living in London, I have enjoyed the opportunity living and working in different parts of Europe. Consequently I always take a certain pride in how we can bridge with our fellow Europeans. I feel it might be worthwhile making a few explanatory points on our current debate over the European Union. This year Britain is bringing forward a referendum on a mammoth decision whether to leave the European Union commonly known as Brexit.

This is a tough one and I can sympathise with those who might be sitting on a fence. Those that might lack the knowledge or who do not simply understand a system that we are, in part, responsible for having created over the last forty odd years.  As we are confronted with today’s challenges, not just at geopolitical level in how Britain and France as nuclear powers can at least pretend to counter the weight of an increasingly unpredictable let alone erratic Russian President still espousing its military prowess playing chess on the world stage but also in solving the issues closer to home of our ever increasing difficulties of our migration and economic crisis.

Let me draw onto those with some arguments that may help us to reach our own conclusions. For the sake of clarity and for the sole purposes of this article I shall refer to myself as ‘we’ when referring to the British rather than Northern European.

Historically, in military terms Europe has always been a hotbed of competition and conflict. Often Britain has been on the side lines but on the larger and more defining conflicts we were involved. Britons died and laid down their lives on continental soils. I am sorely reminded by my Dutch friends over the battle of the Medway where Admiral de Ruiter had beaten the British navy along our very own River Thames in 1667. Or when my Norwegian family candidly talk about their Viking ancestry in Scotland or as a German friend visiting Amsterdam pointed out that the last time a family member of his visited this town, it was in a tank!

Nowadays these relaxed albeit friendly conversations of our momentous often horrific competitive past might occur within the confides of a cosy cafe whilst eating a toasted cheese sandwich, awash with a Belgian beer on a rustic cobbled street corner overlooking perhaps a peaceful sunset, a cathedral or a picturesque canal.
In contrast today unlike our Russian counterparts to the East we no longer measure up so much in military prowess as to who has the greatest army, largest naval force and so forth largely because we have been at ‘peace’ for more than 70 years with less if not little understanding today of whom our enemy really is.

Instead for better or for worse we measure ourselves in economic terms. Some might argue that finance is a separate issue and requires a separate debate not least because Finance is in a world of its own, has become a noun rather than a verb, defining its own set of rules and where I believe the brunt of our current malaise and problems lie. It will need to come on board and play cricket if it wants to find its feet again.

Nevertheless the tangible economic argument carries a certain weight as a good part of our exports are within the Union. In 2014 Britain exported GBP 230 billion of goods and services which amounts to 44.8% of our total export market and we import slightly more. We export to Europe perhaps due to proximity but largely due to what is now called the European Union. This is an internal single market where we trade goods and services without barriers and tariffs. Those outside the Union might refer to this as some sort of cartel or monopoly that they too would like to be part of. In essence this is what our union is about; a pooling together of our natural resources to neutralise competition. In other words let’s produce coal and steel, trade it, and enrich ourselves for the purposes of peace and harmony. Yes by and large the EU has increased our standard of living and we have all benefited except we have all since moved on from coal and steel. 

Today Europe has now developed and connected itself with a fantastic array of motorways, railways, bridges and, tunnels, supported by some of the best automobiles, locomotives, haulage and ships. Its engineering and technology is often cutting edge. Airbus employ 15.000 UK workers! Its retail and food outlets, we are spoilt for choice. It has now developed into the largest trading block in the world. Quite rightly there needs to be a type of governance and this is when it becomes political as governance is always political unless there is cohesion. Cohesion can only come about on the rarest occasions by strong leadership and grounded principles and steering us toward a common objective. It is those that govern often set the rules, put structures in place and makes the decisions. Luckily if things start to go wrong we developed a system initiated by the ancient Greeks better known as democracy where if we don’t like these rules imposed on us, well let’s then vote these rule makers out!  This might work at national level. At European level, it appears we may have a long way to go….

Like any corporation has corporate governance, a single market requires governance. This is so we can all produce and trade fairly on more or less equal terms and so on, by maintaining good neighbourly relations whilst not getting ahead of ourselves. It is that governance linked to our trade that requires a common interest therefore requires a supranational interest resulting into what is commonly known as a loss of sovereignty. Herewith lays the conflict?

Not least because Britain prides itself as a sovereign state, a parliamentary government supported by the rule of law and headed by a Constitutional Monarch, our Supreme Governor. Even our legal system is different to our European counterparts. As a nation it has always strived in competition and entrepreneurship which our European counterparts remain somewhat adverse to. This therefore poses a direct challenge in that if we want to produce, trade, and have the free movement of goods, service and now people, common sense dictates that we would need supranational governance.

The Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers exists on this basis. If for example the Commission identifies a barrier within its own common market and borders resulting to unfair competition or poor practice, it readily acts, it steers and it legislates. A useful example is the elimination of EU mobile roaming charges that is directly beneficial to the consumer. Another example is the EU 2020 climate initiative in order for the EU to reach a reduction in CO2 emissions. When it becomes law, it is either called a Regulation or a Directive. Regulation is a binding regulatory act and is directly applicable in the entire EU and a Directive is an objective directly implemented into the National Parliaments.

It might worth pointing out that The Commission mostly prepares proposals for legislation based on identified needs. Needs are assessed from what’s called an 'impact assessment'. The lobbyists from automotive, agriculture, pharma, and  NGO’s for example are known as so called stakeholders or special interests.  They are either just being heard or protecting their interests. As per when a proposal comes about, they are passed onto two equal chambers; the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. They in turn debate, change, modify or scrap as they are not obliged to approve it. Note before proposal is shown to the two chamber system it is automatically shown to National Parliaments where it can already be vetoed.

In short as a fervent European at heart I am somewhat disillusioned with Europe. Many of my French, Dutch and German friends too and economically we have run out of ideas. Has it become overly bureaucratic with many careerists that negate rather than create. Has it lost its founding principles, its cohesiveness, its motive therefore its purpose resulting into a potential crisis of confidence whilst becoming a 'soft' touch? Has it reached a type of plateau, caught in a rut between its own comfort zone and its need to streamline and reform. How can it become stronger, more accountable and in which direction?

Somehow we need to find a new way to bridge with each other in our advance forward and for the private sector to kick off?  If it is no longer coal and steel what other natural resources do we have? What other areas of expertise and sectors can we pool together, produce and then trade? Great strides are being made in areas such as renewable energy, infrastructure, biotechnology and utilities. Can 'Finance' play a pivotal role in this type of bridge building by becoming a verb? Could we ever build the world’s longest suspension bridge over the channel with an electric motorway with the help of some of our migrants? We have the ingenuity, the expertise, the resources and even the money. After all the ECB and BoE print money do they not? 

Before I digress, a sensible approach might be that Britain needs to be involved in order to help steer it into a new direction and influence this reform as that is where our main interests lie despite the EU's shortcomings. Better the devil you know. Others might say that Europe is failing anyway and with Britain leaving, this will provide a shock and the EU will be forced to change. We may learn to regret this not least if Scotland decides to rejoin. If we leave we will survive and at least we can take some comfort in having left behind for the benefit of our European counterparts the use of the English language commonly spoken within the wider corridors of the EU.

Interestingly in the past whilst attending our global partnership meetings I had quietly observed my global colleagues. The Brits were jokingly hanging out with the more boorish Americans and Australians. The Dutch tagged along with the Brits. The French stood politely amongst each other. The Scandinavians were understated, and reserved.  The Italians and Spanish were happy go lucky. The Russians were always helpful. And everyone appeared to like the Germans.  In terms of our bridging are we really any more detached than others?

Be strong, be connected, be British, be European !